Listening to Life

Spighe di grano rid modThis section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "Listening to Life" published in Avvenire from 26th June 2016


Words for All Times

Listening to Life/29 - The prophet is the master of light because he knows the darkness of night

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/01/2017

Lago Albano rid"The human tide, breaking itself up at the foot of the tower constantly, soaked by its misery, continues to repeat the question: shomèr ma-millàilah? 'Watchman, what time of the night?' The oracle's tone is disconcerting for its unprecedented courtesy: 'If you like to question, come back ...'. It does not matter. What matters, what keeps us alive is that we do not lose the angelic trepidation, the need, the desire to know at which point the night is or when it will end or what night means. The worst of evils is that the coming and the asking of questions cease."

Guido Ceronetti, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah

No era has experienced a production and multiplication of words like ours. Ancient cultures that were rural and illiterate, exactly because they could neither write nor read, because they only knew a few words, sensed that the word, the words contained a mysterious power in themselves, and so they respected and feared them. They could neither read nor write but could speak. They could not write poems, but they knew how to recite them, they knew how to live them. Our time which is flooded by words has lost its sense of the word; it does not have the tools to recognize the prophets, and confuses them with the makers and sellers of small talk. To recognize and understand the prophets - and only God knows how much we need it - we should simply re-learn to speak.

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Those who don't cry out loose God

Listening to Life/28 - The good things that survive give roots to the future and save all

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 31/12/2016

jacob y el angel 299x300"If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long." (Deut. 22:6-7) - it is the same promise as the one saying: "honour your father and mother". It is said that Elishà ben Avujà once saw a man climb on top of a palm tree, on a Saturday, taking the mother together with the young birds from the nest. And he saw him come down uninjured. Another man, however, after the Sabbath, went up on the palm, took the little ones, and let them the mother fly off. He got down, a snake bit him and he died. Elishà said, "There is no justice, there is no judge." And he abjured. And how did Elishà show that he had lost faith? He did not build an atheistic philosophy: he uprooted a tuft of grass on the Sabbath day.

Paolo de Benedetti, Uomini e profeti, (People and Prophets), Radio3

A deep spirit of the culture of the West originates from the encounter and vital tension between ancient Greek and the biblical humanism. It is found in the philosophical genius of the Greeks, questing for the truth in an absolute freedom and free of any reference to the past, to tradition or sacred texts, and the biblical ethos, geared more to life than to truth, looking ahead; but it's not free or detached from the link with the beginning, because it is anchored in a first Pact and a compelling promise.

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Other angels at the same cave

Listening to Life/27 - Waiting is the ordinary condition of good life

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 24/12/2016

Notte stellata Corea ridIf we consent, God puts a little seed in us and he goes away again. From that moment God has no more to do; neither have we, except to wait. We only have not to regret the consent we gave him, the nuptial yes. It is not as easy as it seems, for the growth of the seed within us is painful. "

Simone Weil, Waiting on God (English translation by Emma Craufurd)

Waiting is the ordinary condition of good life. Every year we relive Advent, because even though we know that that child has already come, we also know that he must return. The people of Israel believed and knew that Abraham had met the Lord, who had appeared to the patriarchs and to Hagar. Moses spoke to him face to face, and all the prophets had got to know the voice, see the heavens and the angels. Yet they continued to wait for the Immanuel, that God-with-us, who had already come, and was supposed to return.

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Blessed is the time of disillusion

Listening to Life/26 - Fresh air is always good for every house and community

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 18/12/2016

Albero bucato ridAlas, what our ideas become at times! As if they were a mask for us. I can express highly generous ideas, say, on the condition of the poor; and my ideas are generous: at the same time I have a rich and beautiful home, and do not see the poor along the road. What is my love for, in this case? For poverty and the poor? But of course not: otherwise I would be among them, one of them, my ideas may well be about poverty, but my love is for my house"

Giuseppe de Luca, Introduzione alla storia della pietà (An Introduction to the History of Piety)

Each community experiences the vital tension between the inside and the outside. Between the need to preserve their identity and the need to accommodate those who knock on the door. Opening up to let fresh air giving life to the house in, closing the doors to retain the warmth created by the intimacy of the relationship between the inhabitants. Usually it is the fear of losing the good warmth that prevails, and communities gradually turn into private clubs of equals that consume relational goods between them, inside protective fences that eventually become actual and real walls.

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Giving What's Necessary Is Not Enough

Listening to Life/25 - Learning to witness the time needed for the seeds to mature

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/12/2016

pescadorI am looking for the word. / Our language is powerless / its sudden sounds - poor. / I search with all the effort of the mind / I am looking for this word - but I cannot find it. / I cannot.

Wislawa Szymborska, I am looking for the word (rough translation)

Hidden in the heart of humanity there has always been a deep desire for a land of gratuitousness. A land where every man, every woman, every poor person has bread, water, milk and honey, without the access to these basic necessities of life being mediated by the possession of money. Because we know, we feel that – deeper than the law of the giving and receiving of money and finance - there is a bond of fraternity that is truer than economic and social inequalities, one that calls us and waits until we find and recognize it.

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The fruitful wounds of labour

Listening to Life/24 - The novelty of the "man of sorrows" generates joy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 04/12/2016

Pietà postmoderna ridI sing of the man who died, not the God who is risen. I sing of the man covered in mud, not the God who is washed clean. I singing of the crazy man, not the God who has come to his senses

Roberto Roversi and Lucio Dalla

The Servant Songs are the summit of the Book of Isaiah, and one of the most elevated passages of the spiritual literature of all time. It is a prophetic text that's admirably poetic, capable of collecting the expectations and hopes of the preceding history and of prefiguring a man and God who was not yet there. These are improbable words, verses that no one had ever written, that could not be written. And yet we have them.

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Called to set up tents

Listening to Life/23 - Beyond failure, "the second day" of every vocation

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/11/2016

Maschere CoreaHaving finished the Gospel according to Saint Mark, he wanted to read another of the three Gospels that remained, but the father asked him to repeat the one he had just read, so that they could understand it better. (...) The next day began like the previous ones, except that the father spoke to Espinosa and asked him if Christ had let Himself be killed so as to save all other men on earth. Espinosa (...) answered, "Yes, to save everyone from Hell." (...) The three had been following him. Bowing their knees to the stone pavement, they asked his blessing. Then they mocked at him, spat on him, and shoved him toward the back part of the house. (...) The shed was without a roof; they had pulled down the beams to make the cross.

J.L. Borges, The Gospel According to Mark (English translation by Norrnan Thomas di Giovanni)

Our most important words have the capacity of becoming history, flesh and blood, of incarnating in our lives. If it were not for these few different words, all our speaking and writing would be but a breath, wind...vanitas. If we say true words of praise about poverty and the poor while we are still living in comfortable wealth, the day will come when those words become life and we will also end up poor. If we believe that a crucified man saved us and proclaim this faith, there comes a time when we will also be nailed to a cross to embody that salvation, to free our friends from their hell. A prophet can say words he does not live for many years, but if he is not a false prophet the day will come in which he will become the words that he has announced. He may cry for a long time over his humiliated and crushed people, until one day he himself becomes crushed, humiliated and outcast, just like his people. And his vocation will be fulfilled.

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The Resource Curse

Listening to Life/22 - Reducing the prophets to "experts of the empire" makes us blind

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/11/2016

Albero Seoul ridWhat use are poets in times of need?

Friedrich Hölderlin, Bread and Wine (English translation by James Mitchell)

Stand fast in your enchantments / and your many sorceries, / with which you have laboured from your youth; / perhaps you may be able to succeed; / perhaps you may inspire terror. / ...let them stand forth and save you, / those who divide the heavens, / who gaze at the stars, / who at the new moons make known / what shall come upon you... Such to you are those with whom you have laboured, / who have done business with you from your youth; / they wander about, each in his own direction; / there is no one to save you." (Isaiah 47:12-15).

In this beautiful chapter of poetic prophecy the Second Isaiah announces the destruction of Babylon. Its pride and imperialism ("you...who say in your heart, / »I am, and there is no one besides me;«" 47:8) were leading it to its ruin. At the root of this imminent collapse there is something more than the typical hubris of all empires or the idolatry that the prophet had placed at the centre of his dispute in the previous chapters.

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Nobody ever touch Adam

Listening to Life/21 - You cannot be jealous of the name and presence of God

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 13/11/2016

Porta Appia Antica ridOnce the Baal Shem summoned Sammael, lord of demons lord, because of some important matter. The Lord of Demons roared at him: 'How dare you summon me?' Up to now this has happened to me only times; in the hour at the Tree of Knowledge, the hour of the golden calf, and the hour of the destruction of Jerusalem.' The Baal Shem bade his disciples bare their foreheads, and on every forehead, Sammael saw the sign of the image in which God creates man. He did what was asked of him. But before leaving, he said: 'Sons of the Living God, permit me to stay here a little longer and look at your foreheads'.

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (English translation by Olga Marx)

The Ulysses of Homer and that of Dante sum up, together, the vocation and destiny of the western man. It is an invincible call of the land and the home and, at the same time, an equally invincible need to set off towards new unknown seas. The sea has to be sailed to return home, but it also seduces us and calls for new departures.

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The consolations of Prophecy

Listening to Life/20 - Faithful to the people and God, even when he seems to be defeated

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 06/11/2016

Fiore cigno rid"I am not my contemporary, no poet is. I am your contemporary, every poet is."

Giovanni Casoli, Tutto è intimo (Everything is intimate)

Nahamù nahamù ‘ammì: "Comfort, comfort my people" (Isaiah 40:1). These words begin the second part of the book of Isaiah. This work was written by an author who remained unnamed, but identified as a member of the school of the First Isaiah and chosen by the biblical tradition to include within the same roll. It's a different author who lived about two centuries after the first prophet who was the "son of Amos'", but not at all inferior to him in terms of his prophetic and poetic strength.

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This Is Where God Is

Listening to Life/19 - It is the world he reveals himself in and where we can meet him

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 30/10/2016

Albero statua crop ridPerhaps a feature of the crucified face lurks in every mirror; perhaps the face died, was erased, so that God may be all of us. Who knows but that tonight we may see it in the labyrinth of dreams, and tomorrow not know we saw it.”

J. L. Borges, Dreamtigers (English translation by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland)

The value of the lives of the prophets does not lie in our ability to imitate it. The false prophets are the ones who present themselves as role models, but true prophets know that if they show themselves as the ethical realization of the words they announce, they end up becoming idols, and so they obscure their ideal just like an eclipse. The prophets are valuable insofar as they are inimitable and different from us. Isaiah did not save his people through his disciples imitating him, who, if they had been limited to this, would only have downsized his message and betrayed his memory. The signs and prophetic gestures are really powerful when  they come from prophets, but they become parodies or comedies when we make them to imitate the prophets.

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